Many phone manufacturers stick to some sort of design language across their range, but in the Rokr E8, Motorola seem to have thrown this out of the window. The identifying features are the Moto logo atop the face and squarely planted in the centre of the rear.
Beyond that, the only bits of Moto design are around the four-way control, front and centre, surrounded by six pseudo-touch buttons, as found on the the Z10 and other Motorola handsets, recently reviewed here on Pocket-lint.
The E8 boasts a slick design, with the face being entirely touch-esque, supported by haptics, so you’ll find no hard buttons. This supports the E8’s big sell: "ModeShift". ModeShift changes the controls based on the options available, for example in the music player or camera. This works because the face is backlit and the characters displayed can be changed or shut-off completely. As a result, when the phone is off, you just get a blank front.
That four-way control will also allow you scroll, rather like an iPod wheel, which Motorola have called FastScroll. FastScroll can be little too fast for menus, but when searching a large collection of music, speed is on your side. If you don’t like it, then you can always use the four-way buttons instead.
In practice, due to the size of the phone, ample space is given to the "keys" meaning functions are generally very straight-forward. Haptics, of course, are a question of personal preference, but the accompanying buzz drove us to distraction.
Around the sides of the phone you’ll find hard buttons for the camera, an underwhelming 2-megapixel offering, volume, and a power/lock slider. Hold on, isn’t this a music phone? Where is the dedicated media player button? Oh, that has been shoe-horned onto the front, as if it were an afterthought. Really, considering all this design effort, this is a massive oversight in our opinion.
To support the music-focus, you’ll find 2GB of onboard storage, which whilst not terribly exciting, competes with your average entry-level MP3 player. You do, however, get a microSD expansion slot, which supports SDHC, but this is hiding under the back cover, so if you are planning on regularly swapping out your cards, you’ll be pulling the back off, which again seems like a design faux-pas.
Sticking with the big music theme, you’ll find a dedicated 3.5mm jack on the top of the phone. This 3.5mm jack is in addition to a Micro-USB lurking around the side. Oh, if you didn’t get the memo, Micro-USB is the future above and beyond Mini-USB, so any old Moto chargers you have lying around will now be obsolete, which is a shame.
The bundled headset also functions as the aerial for the FM radio and the handsfree mic. As you expect with these things, the included headset is not up to much from an audio point of view, but regular headphones will also allow you to use the radio.
In terms of music, despite the music player launch button hiding on the front, the player is fairly intuitive, and there is a speaker lurking on the bottom of the handset, which doesn’t sound too bad, so if you plan to broadcast your music on the back of the bus, then you’ll at least get better quality here than in other models.
So, with a reasonable speaker at the bottom and a clever pseudo-touch interface in the middle, you don’t get left with much space for a screen. True. The E8 only features a 2-inch LCD TFT screen (QVGA 240 x 320), but it does look very good. For a device this size, we would have expected a larger screen, but a compromise has been struck to give you a keypad area that works.
In terms of phone specs, there is no 3G support, there is EDGE, if you are lucky enough to be able to find any, but with a screen this small, you’d be best steering clear of too much internet browsing. Unfortunately there is no Wi-Fi or GPS which, given the size of the device, is a little surprising. You do get A2DP Bluetooth, however.
In calls the shape of the phone means this is not the most comfortable to use, a little too slab-like. You’ll also find a great deal of echo, so you’ll hear yourself talking when making calls which needs a little repositioning to become bearable.
Perhaps saving the best for last, you’ll find that the Rokr E8 runs on Motorola’s own Chameleon platform, so the interface is better than you’d expect, certainly better than previous models from the company. Taking the music a little further, you can run the media player whilst navigating other areas of the phone, whilst playing games and so on, which makes the Rokr feel like the music player it wants to be. There are still a few little quirks here and there, but text entry, predictive text and contacts navigation all seem improved and Motorola deserve credit for that.
It is clear that the Rokr E8 wants to be your music player and this is something it does very well, baring, of course the lack of a real button to access this feature. The music sounds good, although if you like bass, you’ll have to opt for the maximum "Bass Boost" setting, which is an arbitrary value of 7, bizarrely. The dedicated 3.5mm socket is commendable and the ModeShift feature makes navigation easy; the interface is the best we’ve seen from Motorola for some time.
Looking beyond the music and compromises have been made: this isn’t the most advanced phone, it doesn’t compete with rivals in terms of connectivity, camera, screen size and feature set. Considering this is going to be your phone, possibly for the next 18 months (on contract), you may feel that too many compromises have been made to bring you the music.
A great headline act, but a shame about the supporting features.